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INFLUENCE OF OWNERSHIP ON MEDIA CREDIBILITY: A STUDY OF EBONYI BROADCASTING CORPORATION, (EBBC), ABAKALIKI
1.1 Background to the Study Communication media are on the move, constantly evolving, and changing the world we live in. Their diversity and impacts have ushered in the contemporary information societies where the exchange of information remains the dominant economic activity and source of power. Consequently, individuals, interest groups and even governments have intensified efforts to own and control at least a media outfit, with which to tell their own side of the story. However, the age-long impediment to the right of man to communicate continues to rear its ugly head, only undergoing contextual metamorphosis with time. For instance, in the agora age, the right to communicate incurred the pangs of conservatism in the guise of freedom of opinion. During the Gutenberg galaxy, it suffered suppression as freedom of expression. In the 19th century, it acquired the name press freedom under the battering ram of religious interest and political authorities, while credibility question is the current nomenclature under which the right of man to communicate is gagged(MacBride, et al 1981:172). It should be noted that, the advent of powerful electronic media outlets in the early decades of the 20th , Century, and their subsequent deregulation in many countries, (including Nigeria in 1992] are all part of the struggle to guarantee the right to communicate. Thus, the proliferation of media organizations, increased feedback mechanisms via digital technologies and wider audience outreach are some of the new dimensions of communication potentials won through the struggle. Dominick (1996:222) agrees that the emergence of broadcasting, with its “talk shows programmes is simply democracy in action and a triumph of free expression”. 2 The above, notwithstanding, there is no denying the fact that any media organization (whether government or privately owned) which desires to make the needed impact in the contemporary competitive media environment must pass through the acid test of audience trust and confidence. It is no longer enough to garbage in and out of the media any stuff and hope by so doing, a media organization is assured of successful media practice. The evolution of contemporary active audience and the prevalence of performance excesses on the part of individual media outfits have created a shift in the understanding of media credibility as a virtue which does not reside intrinsically in an object, person or piece of information, but assigned to a media house as a result of a judgment made by a subject (Savolain, 2007:5). According to the Society of Professional Journalists (2004:1), “credibility refers to objective and subjective components of believability of a source or message… its components include trustworthiness and expertise defined from the user perspective”. Credibility, as the Society (2004) further notes, has links with media roles and motives, user demographics and values, prior attitude on issues and media use. It can weaken the validity and acceptability of a message. (Nworah, 2007:3). It is the opinion of Lewis (2003:1) that corporate organizations (including the media) experience pressures from an increasing interest across the gamut of stakeholders, from consumers and employees to investors and legislators. This increasing interest, Lewis (2003:1) further notes, “is in the values and standards of the companies behind their products and brands”. In order to engender public trust and confidence, Lewis (2003) explains that putting these values and standards at the heart of business, not an adjunct to commercial activity, should be taken more seriously and be integrated further into the business vision and brand management. Herein, lies the essence of good management pattern. 3 But the question is, can effective management style be divorced from the control of owner’s vision and interest? According to Owuamalam (2006:137), Ownership deals with the right to possession of a tangible property. It means that the property in question can be specifically defined, to the exclusion of any other interest, apart from the legal possessor, as bestowed by law. It is the law that defines the nature of ownership and parties that may claim right of possession. Ebonyi Broadcasting Corporation (EBBC) 98.10 MHZ Frequency Modulation was established in 1997; following the creation of Ebonyi State along with other five other states in Nigeria on October 1st, 1996. Earlier, the pioneer Military Administrator of Ebonyi State, Navy Captain Walter Feghabo, had applied for both radio and television licenses to NBC on March 3, 1997. So, from inception, EBBS has been a government owned station. Owuamalam (2006:138) contends that the ownership of broadcasting establishments becomes the sole preserve of governments, expected to use it for the propagation of national objectives and the promotion of freedom of expression by all. The monopoly of broadcasting as a government affair is therefore rooted in the sovereignty of the state and the recognition that public establishments are safe in the hands of the ‘wise men’, selected to govern the people by the people. Government ownership pattern, according to Anyaegbudike (2002:43), is known to influence the minds of people and affect the climate of opinion over issues of public concern. It, therefore, becomes imperative to critically examine the influence of ownership on credibility of media messages. It is in an attempt to unravel the mysteries behind owner’s prerogatives and how they can be used to boost credibility of mediated messages that have necessitated this study. It is believed that a well-planned and structured research will help media organizations appreciate the extent to which their ownership patterns and control can influence the credibility of their messages to their audience. 4 1.2 Statement of Problem Some traditional media organizations such as radio, television, newspapers and magazines seem to have lost prominence and their audience. They make little or no positive change in the society. Their news and information, as the Europiean Society of Professional Journalists (2004:1) observes, are being increasingly circumvented by users who trust and use alternative media sources. These alternative sources are available through multi-channel cable television, direct-satellite, and the internet, and they are believed to play a major role in providing news and information that may affect public policy. Consequently, the traditional media neither attract patronage nor support. Advertisements and goodwill are scarce. Apart from government subvention, they find it difficult to survive. It becomes necessary to ascertain how media owners can alter their influences in order to bridge the widening credibility gaps between the media and their audience. 1.3 Objective of the Study This study will serve to alert media organizations on the necessity of high credibility in media practice. It will teach that credibility is not just a question of accuracy and validity of mediated messages. It has more to do with the reputation the media firm builds and sustains over time. The study may educate media practitioners that building high credibility starts from the top. In other words, the initiative to build credibility for mediated messages must first be taken at the management stable. It must form part of the owner’s interest. The study is also aimed at exposing negative and undue ownership influences that widen credibility gaps, as well as proffering solution to them. 5 1.4 Significance of the Study This study is undertaken in cognizance of the perceived dwindling public trust and acceptability of the output of some media organizations in today’s society. The findings of this study will provide insights for media outfits to understand why credibility gaps continue to widen between them and their audience, despite their supposed applied expertise in discharging their duties. It will also serve as a guide to media managers to know the most effective management practices and patterns to adopt to raise credibility of their messages. To communication researchers, educators and other members of the academia, further research on the influence of ownership on media credibility can be embarked upon, using this study as a foundation. This is quite necessary, as the vagaries and uncertainties in today’s field of media practice have necessitated the use of research based approach for solving media related problems. The work will also serve as additional knowledge on the influence of ownership on media credibility to students and other members of the society who are not well informed on the factors and indices of credibility of mediated messages. 1.5 Research Questions 1. Does ownership structure have any effect on the relationship between the audience and a media organization? 2. Does such a relationship affect the credibility of the mediated message? 3. What are the undue ownership influences that affect credibility of mediated messages? 4. What are the solutions to credibility slump? 6 1.6 Scope of the Study Ebonyi Broadcasting Corporation (EBBC) Abakaliki, is purposively chosen as case study in this research. Adults between the ages of 18-50 years are selected in Abakaliki town, as its audience for this study. 1.7 Definition of Terms Ownership: The right of possession to a property, service, ideas and organization is known as ownership. Credibility: This is the trust and confidence that the audience holds for a media outfit which performs its functions in the society. Influence: When an action of a person, idea or an organization brings about a perceived control or effect on the receiving object, persons or groups, the perceived control or effect becomes influence. Media: A licensed radio, television, newspaper or magazines publishing firm which transmits electromagnetic signals and circulate printed materials for general reception of the audience is the media. Audience: This refers to different categories of individuals who expose themselves (often deliberately, and with certain expectations from media) to the messages of mass media. Messages: Messages imply packaged service products of the media used for information, education and entertainment of the audience.